Courtesy of Prince of Peace Catholic Church

"Brewing Conversations" with Giussani

Marco Saccaggi's witness at the 2018 National Diaconia focused on his experience watching Fr. Branson introduce Giussani's writing in his parish.
Marco Saccaggi

Most of you probably know Fr. Branson, he is a priest in the South East region. He is part of the Fraternity and has been a priest for the past three years. He’s a pretty young guy, and last year, he was assigned to a new parish about thirty minutes north of us in Flowery Branch. It’s a huge parish of ten thousand families and it’s very well organized. They have a website and many structured activities. It’s unbelievable. I remember having a conversation with Fr. Branson in December regarding how we could propose the experience of the Movement in this parish. I was perceiving a sort of reluctance, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding space to say something in the midst of all this structure. We’d also been talking about doing a book presentation for months without going anywhere.

Four months ago, though, Fr. Branson sent me a flyer with an invitation to read Is it Possible to live this Way?. He basically organized a year-long reading group in his parish, featuring “Faith” now, “Hope” in the fall, and “Charity” in the spring. It’s structured as “Faith on Tap,” so it occurs in a room with beer and coffee.

When he proposed this to the parish, 250 people enrolled. They had to close registration because there was no more space. Two hundred people showed up the first time, and the second time we were 270. There are round tables where people can sit, a stage with a sofa, and Fr. Branson with a beer in his hand. It’s very relaxed. He talks for thirty-five minutes to introduce the book, and afterward, we discuss at our tables for twenty minutes. And then, there are twenty more minutes of Q&A. Everyone bought the book, and everyone read the chapter in advance.

I must say that I was totally blown away, first of all, by the types of questions that came out. People really read the book and they had questions regarding trust, freedom, and dependence. They had a lot of questions regarding obedience and companionship as well because the two things are correlated in the chapter and people didn’t understand.

I went to every meeting as one of the participants. It’s been a fantastic journey for me personally to go back and to read the book again and to look at things with the eyes of a new person who has never heard these things before. People are totally intrigued and thrilled. There are young families who are starting to read the book together. Fr. Branson told me that he ran into a parishioner at the grocery store and the person said, “Listen, Fr. Branson, I am really struck by you. I was planning to just come and listen, but I bought the book and I read it cover to cover. Absolutely fantastic. What do we do next?” I simply share this because I am in awe in front of what is happening. Clearly, the attraction to Fr. Branson makes a huge difference but, at the same time, it’s amazing to see the changes happening around this.

Someone who came to the first meeting talked about the lessons they had learned, and they were just repeating things with little density. They were saying the words but there was nothing there. However, by the fourth meeting, they were answering questions from the audience and I had my eyes wide open because of the depth that, in a month, this person developed by living this experience and comparing themselves with the book.

Fr. Branson is also doing this in Spanish, and there are about seventy people attending the Spanish version. It’s fantastic and he is waiting for the Spanish sessions to finish before thinking about what to do next. People asked for more because they have more questions and they don’t want to stop here, they want another chance. So, last week we had another meeting with very interesting questions and people signed up to stay in contact. However, at the moment, we still don’t know what we will do next.